Nigel Leaves: A Tribute

Dear Westar community, it is with deep sadness that we announce the death earlier this week of Fellow Nigel Leaves of St. John's Cathedral in Brisbane. His partner of 30 years, Julie Leaves, reports that at 10:31 am London time and 7:30 pm Brisbane time, Nigel died as a result of a massive and unforeseen heart attack. He was only 56 years old. "I want to thank everyone who has worked so hard to help us over the last few hours both in Brisbane and in London," she writes. "Can't know how much it means to us."

Nigel Leaves

Nigel contributed to the work of religious literacy in numerous ways, most importantly in his interactions with people in both his academic and pastoral capacities. His absence will be felt acutely among us for many years to come. "Nigel was one of the quiet yet great ones of us," said Westar Fellow Jarmo Tarkki upon learning of Nigel's passing.

His remarkable insights into the work of both Don Cupitt and Lloyd Geering, let alone his very own thoughts in his last book Religion Under Attack: Getting Theology Right will fortunately be with us for a very long time. Amazon describes the book as I would describe Nigel: “He wrestles religion from extremists and into the hands of reasonable and sane believers.”

Nigel and I had plans to get together in Australia “soon.” This was about 4 years ago. What do I learn – “Morgen, morgen, nur nicht heute, sagen alle Leute” – is wrong. Do it now, for tomorrow might not be there.

Nigel surely will be missed by his family, friends and all of us, who knew him as great fellow of Westar and a friend. Thank you, Nigel.

Nigel Leaves was based in Brisbane, Australia, where he served on the staff of St. Francis Theological College and as Canon of St John’s Anglican Cathedral. He was also an Academic Associate of Charles Sturt University, teaching at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels (full bio). He was concerned that theology should be both honest and appropriate to the culture in which it is situated. Fearful that truthful “God-talk” had been sidelined from ordinary conversation, he enjoined theologians to be more creative in their engagement with postmodernity. He authored several books, including a two-part study of the work of radical theologian Don Cupitt followed by his own Religion Under Attack: Getting Theology Right! and The God Problem: Alternatives to Fundamentalism. Westar members may recall that he delivered a lecture on The God Problem at the Westar Institute national meeting in Spring 2005.

Most recently, Nigel contributed an essay to Why Weren't We Told?: A Handbook on 'progressive' Christianity (2013), in which he addressed the ongoing gap between academic and public conversations on religion.

The tragic irony is that the seminary I trained at was so far ahead of the church I was being prepared for. And in many ways that same situation remains today. The theology taught to the next generation of priests and deacons is serviced through secular universities whose programs embrace the latest biblical, hermeneutical, and methodological approaches. Ideas about 'God', 'Jesus', 'the Church', etc., are not necessarily filtered through a denominational lens, but are presented in a sweeping overview of what has been written in the past and what is being written and spoken today. Seminarians rub shoulders with secular humanists as they both seek to discover 'the historical-jesus'. As one who now sits on the other side of the lectern, I often discover that the seminarian is far more theologically and ecclesiastically radical than the 'seeker after Truth' sitting next to her. And yet, the Church they are being sent to aren't necessarily prepared to receive their theology. It daily proves to be an intellectually stimulating process.

In short, some of the disconnect I experienced as a young curate all those years ago still remains. How does the Church envision its own programs of theological education? Does it really want its future ministers to embrace the habits of critical thinking inculcated in its educational modules? ...

It is my contention that what is taught in the seminary should be applied in the Church. If the seminary experience is to prove useful, it cannot be simply a training regimen to be endured or a warm-up round with little relation to the main event. Rather, it is a vital resource for enabling the Church to become theologically liberated and renewed. The seminary and the Church need to become partners in the revitalisation of an institution in decline. Parishioners should not look forward to moulding the new curate in their own image, but to being challenged and invigorated by the visionary proclamation of good news that transforms their situation and the world at large.

Rest in peace, Nigel, and may your vision inspire and encourage us ever onward.

Information about funerary arrangements will be available on the St. John's Cathedral website here.

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